Are you getting the results you want from your exercise routine?

Many people who exercise or go to the gym base their program on what they read in magazines or what they see other people doing. They often do this without any specific guidelines or direction.

Consequently, results are disappointing and/or overuse injuries occur.

The following 12 exercise principles outline a practical guide for all kinds of exercise.  By following these principles, you are most likely to be successful with respect to your exercise goals, while at the same time minimizing your chance of injury.

Start by taking a moment to check in with yourself and do a Needs Analysis. This analysis should include an appraisal of your current physical condition, as well as your goals.

If you need some help doing this, consult with a qualified physician and/or personal trainer.

The 12 Principles

Individuality –  An optimum response to exercise occurs when the exercise program meets the needs and capacities of the individual. These can include anatomical and biochemical variations that may be identified by a medical history and physical exam.

Trainability –  Each person responds differently to a training stimulus, i.e. what works for one person may not for another. You have to monitor your program and make changes accordingly.

Specificity –  A training stimulus (e.g. weights, aerobics and flexibility) should be specific with respect to the desired outcomes/goals. While there may be some transference to overall  conditioning, the SAID principle states that there will be Specific Adaptations to the Imposed Demands. If you are looking to make changes in your muscles/lean body mass, weight training is the specific stimulus, not aerobic exercise.

Overload – In order to create adaptations, the volume of exercise must stress one’s capacity to manage or deal with that overload. This usually includes manipulating the volume, intensity and load at regular intervals. Ultimately, you get improvements by doing a bit more each session and stepping outside your comfort zone. For continued adaptations, the overload must be progressive (over-reaching) in a dose dependent way. Too much overload will result in overtraining and injury, fatigue and illness. Too little load will yield disappointing results.

Variety –  In order to create optimal adaptations, exercise should be varied. This prevents a plateau, stagnation and overuse, as well as allowing for optimal recovery/reduced risk of injury.

Rest – Rest is just as important as exercise. It allows for recovery and regeneration. This includes rest periods during an exercise session as well as between sessions. Rest also helps to prevent overtraining and allows for the desired adaptations to occur.

Reversibility –  AKA- Use it or lose it.  Once exercise ceases, the effects are reversible. This reversibility is different for each adaptation. It takes longer to lose the adaptations from resistance training then it does for aerobic conditioning.

Maintenance – Fitness levels can be maintained by exercising at the same intensity while reducing volume (frequency and/or duration).  In other words, if you exercise with intensity, but shorten your workouts, you can maintain some fitness

Ceiling effect – There are genetic factors that play a role in the adaptations one receives through exercise, whereby at some point there is a law of diminishing returns (i.e. even with continued overload, there will be a ceiling at which no further adaptations will occur). In general, untrained individuals can initially create a number of adaptations, which at some point (based on genetics and training) will plateau.

Interference – Concurrent training of different systems can be antagonistic and/or counter-productive. Different systems require specific training stimulus and strategies to create adaptations (e.g. resistance training requires a stimulus that affects fast twitch fibers and the anaerobic energy system, whereas endurance training requires a stimulus that affects slow twitch fibers and the aerobic energy system). Interestingly, training the anaerobic system will confer benefits to the aerobic system, but not vice-versa. This is why High Intensity Interval Training can be a good strategy to increase lean body mass with concurrent adaptations to the aerobic system.

FITT (Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type) – Each type of desired adaptation (e.g. strength, hypertrophy, aerobic conditioning, flexibility, etc) has an optimum Frequency, Intensity, Timing and Type to be used in order to create the desired adaptation. FITT is essentially a summary of the above principles

Bonus Principle

 The Health Effect – Exercise confers numerous health effects for multiple conditions and systems in the body, including (but not limited to):

  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Metabolic Syndrome (high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar and high cholesterol)
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Osteoporosis
  • Lung Function and Rehabilitation
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Arthritis and Fibromyalgia
  • Immune function
  • Thyroid function

                                                                                             Are you getting the results you want from your exercise routine?


Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Vol. 7. Champaign, IL: Human kinetics, 2008.

Clark, M., Lucett, S., & Kirkendall, D. T. (2010). NASM’s essentials of sports performance training. Lippin

About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin